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Agricultural economist Sheila Bhalla was a life-long supporter of peasants’ rights

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Sheila Bhalla (1933-2021), professor emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru College, an internationally famend agricultural economist with particular experience on Haryana agriculture and a scholar deeply engaged with progressive and democratic actions in India handed away on September 5, 2021. She and her husband, G S Bhalla, had been my academics on the Division of Economics, Panjab College (PU), Chandigarh, and had been the type of academics with whom you stored lifelong contact. G S Bhalla handed away in 2013.

Sheila, as she was affectionately recognized, was Canadian by background. She met Gurdarshan (G S Bhalla) when each had been finishing up their postgraduate research on the London Faculty of Economics. Each had been drawn to the socialist imaginative and prescient of reorganising economies and societies; in Sheila’s case, she was influenced by her father, J C W Scott, a Canadian physicist and a radar specialist who was additionally a dedicated communist. This shared mental and political imaginative and prescient led to Gurdarshan and Sheila getting married and deciding to maneuver to India.

Bhalla got here from a giant household originating from the village of Badhni Kalan close to Moga. To have interaction meaningfully along with her new Punjabi household, she acquired a superb understanding of the Punjabi language and cheap proficiency in spoken Punjabi. For a appreciable interval throughout their tutorial careers in Chandigarh and Delhi, Sheila taken care of her husband’s aged mom who may solely communicate and perceive Punjabi and developed a loving relationship along with her.

The Bhallas spent their complete lives combining their excellent tutorial work with a number of types of help for employees’ and peasants’ actions and for democratic rights in India. I’ve so many recollections of them, however will share only one in the present day. After they joined PU in 1969, I had simply entered the second 12 months of my undergraduate research. On September 2, 1969, the Vietnamese chief Ho Chi Minh handed away and a few of us organised a assembly within the college to pay homage to his revolutionary management. Many college students turned up however solely two college members from the entire college joined the assembly — the Bhallas. It was a nice enhance to our morale and the start of a lifelong relationship.

The administration of PU was, for a very very long time, managed by pro-Arya Samaj right-wing teams supported by the Congress Occasion and the Jan Sangh, and later by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Collectively along with her husband, Sheila performed an understated however essential function in difficult the dominance of these events. They had been assisted on this by their pals Dharam Vir of the Chemical Engineering division (a man of exceptional mind and ethical stature who was a life-long buddy of the Bhallas) and Gurbaksh Singh Soch of the English division (who died younger). They developed the Panjab College Academics Affiliation (PUTA) from an organisation of just about no significance to 1 that had essential significance to the governance of PU. When Professor Bhalla efficiently challenged a heavy-weight pro-Congress college member (V N Tewari) for the workplace of president of PUTA, Sheila performed a key function in organising and strategising their group’s election marketing campaign. Many left-wing academics corresponding to D N Jauhar, Manjit Singh and Ronki Ram (to not point out myself) later grew to become presidents of PUTA, however the affect of left-wing ideology on the organisation was first created by the Bhallas and Vir. Every time the historical past of PUTA is written, their names will function as guiding stars.

Throughout their time at PU, the most important alternative and breakthrough within the analysis profession of the Bhallas got here with the award of a substantial analysis undertaking grant by the Haryana authorities to check the event of the Inexperienced Revolution within the state. Their first main publication, Altering Agrarian Construction in India: A Research of the Impression of Inexperienced Revolution in Haryana (1974), resulted from this undertaking. One vital discovering of the examine was the inverse relationship between farm dimension and productiveness, that’s, when farm dimension will increase, farm output per acre decreases. The examine’s discovering that small farmers are extra productive resonates in the present day with the farmers’ motion in India, which goals to defend small and marginal farmers in opposition to the onslaught of large agro-business corporations.

Subsequently and particularly after their transfer to JNU, a division of mental labour appeared to develop between them — Sheila specialised in Haryana and different areas of India corresponding to Andhra Pradesh, whereas G S Bhalla specialised in Punjab and Gujarat, amongst different areas. Sheila pioneered the examine of agrarian relations in Haryana and printed excellent papers on the topic.

The tribute paid to Professor Sheila Bhalla by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) recognises the convergence between her mental and political work:

“AIKS expresses deep grief on the passing away of Professor Sheila Bhalla, a life-long fighter for the trigger of peasants and employees. Her huge array of work helps us to grasp the impression of capitalist improvement on Indian agriculture, the plight of the poor, agricultural labourers, tenant farmers and different peasant teams. An agricultural economist of nice renown, after her retirement she continued to reside an lively life devoted to learning the altering face of agriculture and the impression of neoliberal financial insurance policies.”

Bhalla is survived by her daughter Sharan Rastogi, and her sons Upinder Singh Bhalla and Ravinder Singh Bhalla (all three have doctorates of their respective fields in India), and Yoginder Singh Bhalla, along with eight grandchildren.

This column first appeared within the print version on September 14, 2021 below the title ‘The engaged scholar’. The author is Professor Emeritus, Oxford Brookes Enterprise Faculty

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